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South Carolina Gamecocks report card: Vanderbilt edition

Does being back in the win column mean being back to stellar grades?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 South Carolina at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ll give USC a lot of credit. Past Gamecock squads would look at the loss from last week and let it destroy them instead of trying to get past it.

These guys overcame the setback even without Marshawn Lloyd, beating the Vanderbilt Commodores last Saturday night in Nashville by the score of 38-27.

As I stated prior to the game, there was immense pressure to take this one because if the Cocks let it slip through their fingers, they would have had to steal a win in the swamp, Death Valley or at home versus a previously top-ranked Tennessee just to become bowl eligible.

Things would not have looked very good.

Now, South Carolina gets to change the narrative, saying they achieved bowl eligibility with three games to spare!

The team now gets to play with a “house money” mentality as they enter the final stretch, knowing if they drop one, all is well, but if they steal one, the Gator Bowl is likely in the cards.

Anyway, the offense dramatically improved when playing a dreadful defensive front, the defense took a step back but was able to create some turnovers to salvage its otherwise not fantastic day and there was a Beamer Ball sighting on special teams!

It was a fun one to watch, and now I get to give out grades for it.

Let’s go!

Offensive Grade: A

If I’m not mistaken, this must be the first time the offense has earned this grade against an SEC team.

These guys deserved it too.

Bell, Beal-Smith and McDowell — filling the large shoes of Marshawn Lloyd — played wonderfully, combining for 159 yards on 24 carries with one of them being this 52-yard touchdown run by Beal-Smith to extend the Gamecock lead to 24-14.

I said to exploit the Commodore run defense, and thankfully, that’s the game plan Satterfield drew up.

Spencer Rattler was not asked to do a lot, passing for 186 yards on only 23 attempts, but he took advantage of every opportunity he had on top of tossing three touchdowns for the first time since the 2020 Cotton Bowl!

He was also on the throwing end of this highlight reel-worth play with Josh Vann, who we haven’t seen a ton of since last season but I’m happy knowing the talent is still there in glimpses like this.

As for the best part, Pro Football Focus gave Rattler a grade of 92.2, which was the highest among all Power Five quarterbacks in Week 10!

We all know this isn’t the Georgia (or even Missouri) defense or anything, but it’s good knowing this kind of success is possible with Coach Satterfield as the offensive coordinator.

It’s a change of pace from opposing defenses knowing what plays were coming!

Defensive Grade: C+

This may be a tough pill to swallow, but those flashy turnovers are only distracting you from what was an otherwise forgettable performance from the Gamecocks defensively.

South Carolina had a great day on offense, right? Well USC only had 38 more total yards than Vanderbilt. The Commodores even out-rushed the Gamecocks AND won the time of possession battle.

Additionally, Vanderbilt only punted twice, once per half. Every other possession either ended in a touchdown, missed field goal, a turnover or the half ending.

Not great.

Ray Davis also rushed for a season-high 167 yards on 20 carries. For reference, he ran for 28 yards with 15 carries in his previous game against Missouri.

We are aware South Carolina’s run defense is not superb by any means, but you cannot let schools like Hawaii, Elon or Northern Illinois (not a bad school, but its defense has been awful for a while) beat you in that category!

Up until Vanderbilt turned it over on downs deep in Gamecock territory with 3:34 to play in the first half, this game felt like a shootout, which is not what you want when playing the bottom of the barrel in the SEC.

Let’s also not forget that late hit on 3rd and 15 during Vanderbilt’s first drive of the second half that extended a drive that should have ended on their own 25-yard line. Instead, it concluded with a touchdown.

Things like that make my blood boil.

Credit to Darius Rush, who made that first pick to set the tone early, and everyone who was able to force those turnovers, but that’s just about all the good I have to say.

The only ones who were able to get Vanderbilt off the field offensively, for the most part, were themselves.

Special Teams Grade: A

Beamer Ball is back!

The Gamecocks sure do love including Tonka Hemingway on offense in any way they can, and he made his way onto a fake field goal package late in the third quarter, catching a pass from Kai Kroeger, who continues to sling it every opportunity he gets to throw the football.

That was the only out-of-the-ordinary special teams sighting we were lucky enough to see, but as for the normal, Mitch Jeter and Kai Kroeger continued to do their things.

When the holder chose to not pass the football, Mitch Jeter made his only opportunity from 31 yards out.

Yes, another short field goal, but they haven’t needed him to kick anything longer yet!

Kroeger has had better punting days, but he was still able to boot two inside the 20-yard line.

The point is no matter what else happens on special teams, when a play is able to help your team score a touchdown in the future like that fake punt did, it was a good day.

Overall Grade: B+

Definitely some things to fix like the penalties and run defense, but at least the defense was able to force some turnovers again!

There was also “Juice” Wells’ 110-yard performance, catching two of Rattler’s three touchdowns.

The offense got fixed, and the Cocks started to look like a competent team again.

All that and we’re guaranteed to see South Carolina for a 13th time this year in December or January.

I’ll take it!